Research Sketch: Hawthorne, Järvikivi, & Tucker (2017)

Finding word boundaries in Indian English-accented speech


 Kara Hawthorne

 University of Mississippi


Foreign accent, Regional accent, Indian English, Prosody, Word segmentation


Hawthorne, K., Järvikivi, J., & Tucker B. V. (2017). Finding word boundaries in Indian English-accented speech. Journal of Phonetics, 66, 145-160.



  • English speakers use stressed syllables as a cue to word boundaries.
  • Unlike other Englishes, Indian English often uses low pitch on stressed syllables.
  • Indian English accent impairs word segmentation for Canadian English listeners.
  • Indian English pitch and general accent both contribute to segmentation errors.


The majority of English nouns, verbs, and adjectives begin with a stressed syllable, and listeners exploit this tendency to help parse the continuous stream of speech into individual words. However, the acoustic manifestation of stress depends on the variety of English being spoken. In two visual world eye-tracking experiments, we tested if Indian English-accented speech causes Canadian English listeners to make stress-based segmentation errors. Participants heard Canadian- or Indian-accented trisyllabic sequences that could be segmented in two ways, depending on the perceived location of stress. For example, [hæ.pi.tsə] could be segmented as happy/[tsə] if it is perceived to have stress on the first syllable or as [hæ]/pizza if it is perceived to have stress on the second syllable. Results suggest that Indian English-accented speech impairs segmentation in Canadian listeners, and that both accented pitch and other features of the Indian English accent contribute to segmentation difficulties. Findings are interpreted with respect to models of how similarity between two languages impacts the listener’s ability to segment words from the speech stream.

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